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City HallThe AgendaSFPD has the worst record in the state on 'pretext stops' of...

SFPD has the worst record in the state on ‘pretext stops’ of Black and API people

Plus: Was the Killer Robot vote even legal? That's The Agenda for Dec. 5-12 2022


The San Francisco Police Department has the worst record in the state of stopping Black and Asian and Pacific Islander residents for minor traffic infractions, so-called “pretext stops,” a new report from the Human Rights Commission shows.

The cops pull over Black motorists at more than four times the rate that would be expected based on their population. Pacific Islanders face pretext stops at three times their population rate.

SFPD pull over way too many Black and API motorists for pointless stops that amount to harassment, critics say. Tomás Del Coro photo from Wikimedia Commons.

White and Asian people are pulled over at rates considerable lower than their representation in the population.

That’s more than twice as bad as the average rates for cities in California, and no big city department shows such a large racial disparity in traffic stops, the report shows.

The report will come before the Police Commission Wednesday/7 as the panel meets to consider a new general order that would strictly limit pretext stops.

The pretext stops have been a big issue at the commission, and Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone, a mayoral appointee, has taken the lead on limiting the practice. That caused the Mayor’s Office a bit of consternation—Breed, as usual, wants to be sure that the cops are okay with the new policy—and the debate became part of a much larger discussion about the mayor requiring undated resignation letters from her appointees.

The new policy would bar local cops from pulling over cars just because there’s an expired tag, an improperly attached license plate, or something hanging from the rear-view mirror, among other minor offenses that currently lead to stops.

The HRC’s community outreach included 19 meetings with more than 300 people across the city. Many of the participants talked about their fear of getting pulled over for minor, or maybe nonexistent, offenses:

“Being pulled over is to be expected. It’s not getting pulled over, it’s the things that happen once you’re pulled over. The police are argumentative. The Police are trained to pull over Black people in Black communities because of the opportunity to get evidence for crimes. In white communities, Black people get pulled over because they are Black – people think they are doing wrong.”

“A friend of mine was stopped because she has a bumper sticker – I heart Mission – and was told by the officer that they’d recommend her to take it off or she would keep getting pulled over.”

“Police can pull us over and say it was a mistake after but that doesn’t take away the trauma we go through during the stop when our children are inside the car.”

The commission will also hear a report from the Department of Police Accountability on SFPD’s repeated failure to work with the oversight agency on officer misconduct.

From the DPA report:

1. SFPD did not publish all required information on officer misconduct investigations.

2. The Police Commission and city leaders could not address delays in the disciplinary process because SFPD did not provide information required by Administrative Code Chapter 96.

3. Reports on Internal Affairs investigations did not meet the Police Commission’s content and timeliness requirements.

4. SFPD’s misconduct information did not meet best practices for reporting data.

This has been an ongoing problem with the cops, and the commission can order the chief to fix it.

The meeting starts at 5:30pm.

Meanwhile, the Supes are scheduled to take a final vote on the Killer Robots Tuesday/6, but Sup. Dean Preston says the vote is illegal and should be delayed.

The civilian oversight of military equipment is based on a state law, AB 481, sponsored by then-Assemblymember and now City Attorney David Chiu.

The law states that

“In seeking the approval of the governing body pursuant to subdivision (a), a law enforcement agency shall submit a proposed military equipment use policy to the governing body and make those documents available on the law enforcement agency’s internet website at least 30 days prior to any public hearing concerning the military equipment at issue.”

The supes have been holding public hearings on the issue for months, and it appeared two weeks ago that everyone was on board with a set of policies.

But at the last minute, just three days before the final Rules Committee hearing and the Board of Supes vote, SFPD added the provision that allows the use of lethal force by robots. That, Preston says in a Dec. 4 letter to Mayor Breed, didn’t give the public adequate time to respond (in fact, a lot of folks were totally caught off guard by this.)

By failing to publish the policy more than thirty days before the Rules Committee hearing, SFPD violated AB 481. Neither the Committee hearing, nor the Board’s November 29, 2022 vote, complied with the requirements of state law, as both occurred less than 30 days after the policy was posted on the SFPD website.

Preston is asking the mayor and Board President Shamann Walton to send the measure back to committee for further public review:

It is of course up to the City Attorney to advise the Board and your offices of the appropriate next steps here, and it is up to the Board how we decide to vote on the Ordinance on Tuesday. But I wanted to alert you at the earliest opportunity of the apparent non-compliance with state law. As you are the sponsor of the legislation, it is my hope that you will publicly communicate your desire to see the policy sent back to the Rules Committee, so that the public will have the time required by AB 481 to review the policy and provide input.

The board, by six votes, can send it back to committee. But the vote to approve it was 8-3.


I want to emphasize that this is not just a technicality. A primary purpose of AB 481, written by our City Attorney when he was in the Assembly, is to ensure transparency and give the public an opportunity to weigh in on these policies. Posting the policy on the SFPD website for three days, rather than 30 days, before hearing and voting on the proposal to allow deadly force by robots undermines the purposes of AB 481.

The Board of Supes Land Use and Transportation Committee and then the full board will consider this week Mayor London Breed’s proposal to ease rules for turning former gas stations into housing. There’s nothing wrong with the concept, but a report the city commissioned shows that it won’t create any new housing.

So why, Preston asks, is the mayor moving forward with this? Why are those sites not designated for affordable housing?

The LUT committee meets Monday/5 at 1:30, and the full board Tuesday/6 at 2pm.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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